Nadia Alawa, the founder of NuDay Syria, says Trump's travel ban undercuts efforts to send a message of hope to Syrian refugees.

Nadia Alawa, the founder of NuDay Syria, says Trump's travel ban undercuts efforts to send a message of hope to Syrian refugees.

Credit: Adam Reilly/WGBH News

Local Aid Groups Grapple With Trump's Travel Ban

February 3, 2017

We’ve heard a lot this week about how President Trump’s temporary ban on travel from seven primarily Muslim countries could affect the flow of people coming into the United States, but the ban could also have a impact on local humanitarian groups whose missions involve going out into the world.

Case in point: the New Hampshire-based nonprofit NuDay Syria — which, according to founder Nadia Alawa, has two distinct goals. It tries to improve daily life for women and children displaced by the Syrian war, by sending them donations gathered here and supporting education and healthcare programs. But Alawa says NuDay Syria's work is also designed to send a crucial message.

"We want to give hope to children in Syria that despite politics, despite aerial attacks, despite the killings and all suffering they’re enjoying and have witnessed, that there are people in a country as huge as America that care," Alawa said. "And they support them with aid, and by sending them to school, and opening up a future for them."

Logistically, Alawa says, the Trump Administration’s travel ban won’t be an issue. Donations can still be shipped to Turkey, as they were before, and NuDay Syria’s staffers don't travel back and forth between that country and the U.S. But that message of sympathy and solidarity may not fare as well.

"The travel ban is, of course, working directly against the message that we have about wanting to send hope to these children, or wanting the world to know that American people are great, and we care about world peace, and we care about building bridges," Alawa said.

At the Boston headquarters of Oxfam America, the concerns are different.

"Oxfam’s specialization is water-supply sanitation and health," said Darius Teter, Oxfam's Vice President of Programs. "We also provide emergency food supplies on a case by case basis, so this is about saving lives, avoiding water-borne diseases, and making sure people have their most basic need met."

According to Teter, Oxfam America is currently working in five of the mostly Muslim countries named in Trump’s ban. Since it was announced, he says, the organization's day-to-day work has taken a hit. 

"Oxfam has staff in Syria, in Sudan, in Yemen, in Iraq, in Sudan," Teter said. "And those staff are nationals of those countries for the most part, and it’s really important for us to be able to bring those staff here so they can explain to us how the programs are going — so they can represent this work to our donors, but also because they’re in high demand to speak with government, with members of the Legislature. The ability to bring staff here who can bear witness to what is happening in those crisis situations is absolutely crucial to our mission."

In addition, Teter says, U.S.-based staffers routinely travel abroad to support Oxfam America's programs. But now, staffers who aren’t U.S. citizens might not be able to return — and every staffer faces possible retaliation from people who see Trump’s travel ban as anti-Muslim. 

Consequently, Teter says Oxfam America issued "a general guideline...that’s basically freezing all travel, all attempts to travel from any of those countries here." He added that Oxfam has also issued a travel ban for its own staff to go to those countries.

Oxfam is also pushing back in court. On Tuesday, it joined a lawsuit brought against the Trump Administration by attorney general Maura Healey and the Massachusetts ACLU.

"For us, frankly, it was a no brainer," Teter said. "I think that the benefit of this is highlighting for everyone the actual cost of the executive order.  

Meanwhile, Nadia Alawa is hoping that local frustration with the travel ban ends up boosting NuDay Syria’s efforts in the long run — and that there are already signs that it might.

"Every day if I pick up my phone, when I pick up my phone, I have someone very emotional who wants to make a difference," Alawa said. "They’ve always been supporting us. They want to support our work even more."

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